Never back down; Hayfield ref back on the court after heart surgery

Published 7:51 am Thursday, February 7, 2019

HAYFIELD — You can’t keep Kenzie Zelinske down for long, especially when she has the Hayfield community behind her.

Kenzie recently gave birth to her second child and had open heart surgery within a month. Just a month later, she was back in her happy place — on a basketball court refereeing a youth tournament in Hayfield.

Despite having to take care of her newborn boy, Beau, and her two-year-old son, Lincoln, while recovering from the surgery, Kenzie didn’t hesitate to help out and ref when the time came.

Email newsletter signup

“To me, that’s just normal. I do what I’ve got to do,” Kenzie said. “I don’t like to dwell on it and I knew it was something that needed to be done. I love reffing and I love helping out. It meant a lot to be out there doing it again without any hesitation or any issues.”

Kenzie, who coaches the Minnesota Fury girls basketball AAU team with her husband Keefe, was diagnosed with an aortic stenosis bicuspid valve when she was an eighth-grader making her way on the varsity volleyball team at Alden-Conger.

Kenzie found out about the medical issue after an intense practice that included her team missing a lot of serves. She had to run seven killers and seven sets of stairs when she collapsed on the last stair. Kenzie, who also went on to play college basketball at Riverland Community College, had the first of two surgeries and was expected to miss a good chunk of basketball season that year, but Kenzie was able to recover in time.

Kenzie Zelinske of Hayfield refs in a Hayfield youth tournament just one month after having open heart surgery.
Photo Provided

Keefe and Kenzie always knew a second open heart surgery was coming, but they didn’t expect it to be so soon, or so sudden. A few days after feeling wheezy on the treadmill, Kenzie found herself in the hospital for three nights before her surgery. She wasn’t allowed to lay back at night, due to the fact that she may have choked on her own blood.

“Mayo is one of the best in the world, but you never know,” Keefe said. “I learned after the surgery that she had to stay in the hospital that when that valve tears that way, a high percentage of people drown because the blood goes back into the lungs. They wanted to keep her there to monitor it.”

After the surgery was over, Kenzie was left with an infant and a two-year-old to take care of and doctor’s instructions not to drive or lift anything over six pounds. Keefe stepped up to help out around the house and various members of the Hayfield community dropped off food, took care of the kids and took off work to help out around the Zelinske household.

“It was a lot to deal with,” Kenzie said. “Luckily Keefer stepped in and picked up his role as a dad in a huge way. I couldn’t do anything with the boys. The Hayfield community really stepped up too. We had a lot of friends bring us over food for nights and that helped a lot.”

Now that Kenzie is starting to hit her stride, she’s been getting out and going to Hayfield basketball games on a regular basis. Keefe is an assistant coach on the Hayfield girls basketball team, and Lincoln, while just two years old, is already asking about going to basketball games on a regular basis.

Keefe, who played college basketball at Luther, said the sport has played a big part of his and Kenzie’s lives and he’s hoping their sons take on the sport as well.

“It’s been influential in both of our lives,” Keefe said. “We’re hoping the kids get my height and Kenzie’s athleticism. We’ve got a little tykes hoop that Lincoln likes shooting hoops on already. I think basketball is a great sport to develop hand eye coordination. We’re hoping the kids take it up.”

Hayfield co-coach girls basketball coach Kasey Krekling is Lincoln’s godfather and he said he’s seen Kenzie show strength against some tough odds.

“Kenzie is a very strong individual, who showed great resiliency through this,” Krekling said. “For her to be back on a basketball court as an official just one month after her surgery shows the strength she has.”

Kenzie said she loves to teach the game of basketball to younger children, whether she’s reffing or coaching. She won’t let much keep her away from the court.

“I love being out on the court and reffing. I love coaching and I love being active,” Kenzie said. “I’m not one to sit at home. Even when I had my first surgery, they told me I would miss all of basketball season and I only missed the first practice and I was cleared. I’m always ready to go.”